Gym Memberships: Know Your Rights

Posted by on January 2, 2008 in Misc.

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday and best for the new year. If you are like me, you probably ate too much and sat around a lot during the holiday. Maybe you were called “rolly polly” as well (the technical term is actually “skinny fat” but I digress). Regardless of the reason, many people join gyms this time of the year. Word to the wise though- there’s a reason why Provinces and States have legislation specifically dealing with your legal rights as it pertains to gym memberships. Although many gyms are law abiding corporate citizens, this industry also has unscrupulous owners and aggressive sales practices which result in uneducated consumers being taken advantage of. Thus, it is important to know your rights before you join a gym.

Gym membership laws differ from Province to Province or State to State. They are typically administered by the same bureaucracy that deals with consumer protection. This post is non-jurisdiction specific, except where indicated, and is intended to be merely a general over-view on factors to look out for when joining a gym (please contact your local government for particular details):

1. Read the Contract and think it over

By law, a verbal contract can be legally enforceable. However, in most jurisdictions, gyms must provide a written contract in order for the contract of services to be legally binding. I would suggest that anyone thinking of joining a gym ask for a copy of the contract and really read it over- even if it means sitting in the gym for up to 60 minutes and reading it over clause by clause.

In the event that you sign a contract without reading it over and change your mind, most jurisdictions have “cooling off” periods where you can change your mind without any legal consequences to you. Cooling off periods vary from 2 days after the written contract is received to 10 days (in Ontario, it is 10 days after the later of when the contract is received or when all the services are made available). Thus, please make sure you read the law on gym memberships before you entertain joining a gym.

2. Beware the Length and Renewal

Some jurisdiction limit the length of a gym membership contract. In Ontario, no gym membership contract can be more than 1 year. If you encounter a perpetual or never-ending contract in duration- run don’t walk away since it is either illegal or a gym may not be morally upstanding (think about it- how many contracts are perpetual in length? Even marriage contracts can be broken and, in theory anyways, they are supposed to be for life).

In Ontario, a gym has specific obligations before it can renew your membership.  Specifically, at least 30 days before the expiration of the 1 year contract, but not more than 90 days before the expiration, the gym must provide written notice of the renewal of the contract including the location of the gym. Before the renewal date, the member can elect to cancel the membership. Please do this in writing and keep a copy of the termination notice.

In jurisdictions where this is not a specific regulation requiring written notice of renewal, please read the contract. In most contracts of this type, there are typically two options: (i) the member can renew before a specific date from the expiration of the membership (i.e. positive action is required); or (ii) the contract is automatically renewed if the member says nothing (i.e. no action is required). It is very important to keep these dates in mind and make sure you elect to renew or not to renew in writing and deliver it in person or by registered mail.

3. Payment

Some jurisdiction require the gym to offer installment payments and others do not. I would avoid any gym that requires complete payment upfront unless there is significant discounts offered (i.e. you get 3 months free if you prepay for a year) but, even if this discount is present, I would avoid these types of contracts since you do not know if you will use the gym for the entire year.

Most gyms require automatic debiting from a bank account or credit card. I hate this practice- gyms “accidentally” continue to charge you after you have left for months on end and the law on automatic debiting has not addressed this issue at this point in time. If at all possible, pay by post-dated cheques. The gyms only have a finite number of cheques to cash.

Whatever you do, do not cancel the credit card or bank account if the gym continues to debit the account- the gym will send your account to a collection agency (even if you terminated legally). If you have a good written record that you terminated the contract, you can show the bank and/or credit card that the debit is unwarranted or, if the account is “accidentally” sent to collections, you can inform the collection agency that the debt does not exists and, if you have proof of this claim, the collection agency has to stop calling you.

4. Termination

Here’s the bad news- outside of the cooling period, it is usually very difficult to cancel a gym membership during the term of the contract assuming that a sufficient level of service is being offered. If you don’t want to be tied in for a long period of time, look for a gym that offers month to month options.

In some jurisdictions, you can cancel a gym membership if you can prove you have moved within a certain distance away from the gym (but watch for a clause in the contract that allows the gym to transfer the contract to a gym closer to you if the gym is a chain).

Here’s the key to terminating a gym membership, whether if you have rights to do so during the term of the agreement or upon renewal date, give notice in writing and make sure you have a clear record of delivery (either record the time and person who accepted the notice if you hand-deliver it or register mail it) and keep a copy. Gyms can get “forgetful” about termination notices. Make sure you have clear records to contradict them and confirm that they will no longer debit your bank account or credit card (as a helpful suggestion, have them remove your name from their call list too).

The above are some general factors to look out for. I would also read Ellen Roseman’s blog on gym memberships (the comments in the post are quite educational) as well. Good luck.

28 Comments on Gym Memberships: Know Your Rights

By MillionDollarJourney.com on January 2, 2008 at 11:52 am

Great post. I’m part of a gym now that makes it VERY difficult to cancel a membership. Not only that, if you cancel before the year contract is up, they’ll charge you for the year anyways which is conveniently indicated in the small print.

By Riscario Insider on January 2, 2008 at 1:06 pm

It’s too bad that there are so many caveats in dealing with gyms. We’re in the process of getting memberships. Since cancellation is difficult, you can “get even” with a club by going regularly and using their facilities ;)

Cell phone contracts with terms of 2-3 years are an annoyance too, but that’s a different topic.

By admin on January 2, 2008 at 1:08 pm

The only upside to trying to cancel a gym membership is that you burn a lot of calories doing it because it is so difficult.

By admin on January 2, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Riscario- maybe its time for a law which limits the duration of a cell phone contract?

By Riscario Insider on January 2, 2008 at 10:28 pm

I don’t know whether laws are needed for cell phone contracts. Consumers aren’t *forced* to sign up for 3 year contracts and can easily choose shorter terms (including no contract with pay-as-you-go). More competition would help. At least phone numbers are now portable.

A three year contract makes more sense for a car lease than a cell phone. Even home phone contracts offer surprises. One offered a total discount of $60 ($5 or $10 a month) but applied a penalty of $120 for cancellation within 12 months. Do consumers read and understand the fine print? If they don’t, whose fault is that?

By TKO from Ontario on January 3, 2008 at 7:04 am

Resolutionaries,

50% of people who sign up in January will quit by February 14, and 75% by March 21. Don’t become a statistic, get your money worth.
‘The will to win comes from within’.

Be careful of Personal Trainers you choose. If he/she looks like crap, ask for 10 referrals and meet them all, otherwise there’s a very good chance that you’ll look crappy too.

Skip the Bosu Ball, Smith Machine and The Abdominizer, they’re all marketing ploys geared at people who don’t know any better. Don’t lift anything pink or

By Weekend Reading - New Year Edition 2008 | Million Dollar Journey on January 3, 2008 at 11:38 pm

[...] lawyer/blogger at Thicken My Wallet writes about Gym Memberships:  Know your Rights.  This article struck a chord with me as my gym has sneaky accelerated bi-weekly payments, and [...]

By guinness416 on January 4, 2008 at 8:30 am

TKO, the smith machine is very useful – for hanging your towel on when you use the squat rack next door.

By Brian on January 4, 2008 at 3:57 pm

I went down to my gym to find out what was required to cancel my membership, as I was coming up one my one year anniversary. It had been Family Fitness before being bought out by L.A. Fitness. They canceled it for me with no questions. I was quite happy and very surprised.

It means another $35 into the debt snowball!

By Gean Oliveira on January 9, 2008 at 9:07 am

Yesterday I was watching the City News at 6 and I thought in your blog (exactly this post) as a reporter was giving some advices regarding the membership fees in Toronto. Maybe she read this post as I did! :)

Thanks

By Thicken My Wallet » Blog Archive » Dealing with Salesmen, Cheats and Lairs on February 8, 2008 at 7:04 am

[...] as credit collection agencies, timeshares and vacation clubs and gyms (I previously wrote about gym memberships). The industries are not corrupt per se; however, they tend to have enough members who engage in [...]

By squawkfox » 50 Ways to Save $1,000 a Year on September 2, 2008 at 11:38 pm

[...] relationship, especially if your membership or contract is hard to break or goes on for years. Know your rights before joining a gym, be aware of the pitfalls, and do the math. Before paying a gym, consider [...]

By Margo on February 24, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I have a different problem with my gym that I haven’t seen addressed. There is a sign on the door saying they are closed until further notice. At first it was the teacher not showing up at 5:30 am for aerobic class now they are just closed. I think I need to cancel. Can anyone help me with this one? Thanks,

By admin on February 25, 2009 at 11:50 am

Margo- it sounds like your gym is closed for business? If so, read your agreement. The gym can switch you to another location (if they have more than one location). If so, and depending on what the agreement says, you may have to attend the new location. If they have only one location then you may want to cancel your pre-authorized payment on the basis services are not being offered. But find your agreement and see what it says.

By Sarah on September 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I think your article gave good tips for people. The only thing I don’t agree with is that a business terminate and open-ended contract just because people haven’t used it in a while. Usually (though not always) the member has agreed to a draft b/c it saves money–at times the average they pay per month despite going months (yrs?) at a time w/o using it is lower via open-ended drafts than when paying up front each month. It is really up to each customer to decide what kind of pymt plan is the best option for their situation. This is, of course, assuming they are dealing with an honestly run business. I’ve worked at several places and now own a salon that offers monthly drafting and those members are not subject to fee increases-which can really result in a good bargain–even those who only use our service 6 mos of the year–and we give them these discounts b/c -1)we are a seasonal business, but operate year round and 2)we rely on the yr round stability that drafting offers. Aside from all of that, we don’t need gov’t agencies making up for our oversight–unless there are extreme circumstances (an accident or trauma that clouds thinking, etc) than can we really say it’s the businesses fault if someone fails to notice they are being drafted regularly from a contract that has continued beyond their “committed time”-which is the time they agree to pay in order to get the discount?

By Joe on October 1, 2009 at 11:48 pm

I just recieved a letter today stating i owe 1400.00 for 9 months of service which i did not use. I cancelled my credit card back in feb. and this is the first letter i have received stating they were still charging me and recieved zero phone calls from them. What can i do in this situation? How can they bill me 9 months down the road?

By admin on October 3, 2009 at 11:37 am

Joe:

You have to pull the contract and see what it says first. Good luck.

By Joe on October 4, 2009 at 1:40 am

I only signed up for a 2 month trail membership, and regardless of the contract, if they were still charging me monthly, aren’t they obligated to send me a bill every month, rather than a year later?

By 10 Ways to Cut Your Fitness Membership Costs | Squawkfox on January 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm

[...] in the market for a shiny new gym membership, it may be wise to read the fine print and know your rights before agreeing to a fitness club contract. No one wants to be stuck paying for a membership they [...]

By Coffeetalk on January 14, 2010 at 11:49 pm

For gym contract check some of the tips from the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services:

http://www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en/Pages/Fitness_Clubs.aspx

By Bev on February 10, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Underage family member signed contract then after several months tried to cancel – was threatened by the gym because she misrepresented her age – no id was presented. Is she still legally bound by the contract?

By admin on February 10, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Bev- in Ontario, a minor generally cannot enter into a contract.

By Thicken My Wallet » Blog Archive » How to be a smart customer on April 8, 2010 at 5:03 am

[...] the problem industries. Gym memberships,  gift cards, travel, extended warranties, gift cards and cell phone contracts all have specific [...]

By Mellissa on May 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I have lost my gym card. In trying to get a replacement card, my gym is advising that my membership will change and I will be charged additional fees each month to keep my current benefits. My original gym was bought out by another company but we have grandfathered rates. Does a replacement card constitute a new agreement?

By admin on May 13, 2010 at 1:26 pm

It sounds like from your email, it is not a card issue but that your membership term is up and the renewal will be on a different rate or they are changing the terms of your membership (which they can only do if the agreement allows for it). Do you have a copy of the original agreement?

By sumd on July 3, 2010 at 6:30 pm

do people have a right to cancel their membership if part of the service is being taken away.. lets say they are promised to be able to use a certain area of the gym. And down the the road that area gets restricted to only personal training use for instance?

By admin on July 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Sumd: Always refer to the membership agreement. It may address what happens if you lose some services. Good luck.

By Robert on September 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I joined a gym membership in Ontario then lost my Hours due to cut backs
I was reduced from 8 days bi-weekly to 2 days I called the gym they didn’t care I tried to make a payment arrangement to cancel my membership they still did not want to deal with me. I offered $200. which I would have borrowed as a kind gesture.
They sent it to a collection agency a few weeks later now they are going to add court cost and Garnish my wages soon.
I think I have a loop hole on the contract the approval was not signed by the manager of the gym and the payment options were not filled out. It was left blank.

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